Wilderlands of High Fantasy
|This article or section is about something oldschool - and awesome.|
Make sure your rose-tinted glasses are on nice and tight, and prepare for a lovely walk down nostalgia lane.
Wilderlands of High Fantasy is pretty much the first third-party Dungeons and Dragons campaign setting to ever come out, published in the late seventies by the venerable and back then extremely popular Judges Guild, the first of the many examples when someone else managed their work better than they themselves did. It began as a single-city setting called City-State of the Invincible Overlord, but quickly grew out of those humble origins and ultimately swelled into a still fairly small land roughly the size of the Mediterranean (a deliberate design choice: this was noted as the amount of land an average Adventurer was ever likely to see).
- 1 Setting
- 1.1 City State of the Invincible Overlord
- 1.2 The Barbarian Altanis
- 1.3 Valley of the Ancients
- 1.4 Tarantis
- 1.5 Valon
- 1.6 Viridistan
- 1.7 Desert Lands
- 1.8 Sea of Five Winds
- 1.9 Elphand Lands
- 1.10 Lenap
- 1.11 Ghinor
- 1.12 Isles of the Blest
- 1.13 Ebony Coast
- 1.14 Ament Tundra
- 1.15 Isles of the Dawn
- 1.16 Southern Reaches
- 1.17 Silver Skein Isles
- 1.18 Ghinor Highlands
- 1.19 Other Lands
- 2 History
This lands are dangerous and untamed, full of monsters and beasts and barbarians and evil humanoids, ruins of ancient kingdoms and empires and even evidence of interstellar visitations, with city-states ruled by cruel overlords scattered all around that clusterfuck and mostly keeping to themselves. Precisely one of those city-states, Viridistan, could claim itself to be anything even resembling a true nation, and even that's like the size of Belgium at most. A land in decline and facing a rebirth, it is a time of great change, when all creation stands in the crossroads - and it is here where the Player Characters are dropped, to leave their own mark in the history of the setting or even lead it towards the direction they would want.
In short, it was the original Points of Light, and still one of the best to ever have come bearing that description.
You think Greyhawk peasants had it bad? Well, in Wilderlands your average peasants got a good twenty years of life expectancy, most likely ending your solitary and nasty life in a brutish way by the axe of a marauding beastman, or the dagger of a thief after your purse, or the plague. Just about everyone in charge is evil, law enforcement is too weak and incompetent to protect you (save for the secret police which everyone has and which is too competent), just about all roads are in shit conditions so you can't visit your cousin ten miles away without provoking bandits and monsters, and slavery is both legal and widespread so even your freedom wasn't a given. But if you were really smart or lucky, you could live to the ripe old age of thirty-five or so!
And yet if you've got the strength and the conviction for it, and a few friends to have your back, you could march right up there and topple that asshole overlord and see if you could do better. Rebuild the whole damn ancient empires while you're there. It is the time of great change, after all, and there are no secret societies or other bullshit railroading you and telling you what to do.
It is also gonzo as hell, having been born in the time when scifi and fantasy were not clearly distinct, and gleefully embracing both into a weirdass pulp land where both Conan and Flash Gordon would be right at home. The land is littered with crashed spaceships - as mentioned up above - thanks to a prehistoric space war between two different alien coalitions, and amongst the standard fantasy races you've got folks like cavemen (riding mammoths!), amazons (with captive women doing all the menial work and men kept for reproduction), lion, cat, hawk, and even chicken people, and it's not at all uncommon to bump into a perfectly normal human except with his skin blue, red, green, or even entirely transparent.
The whole setting is split into eighteen different areas, each of which was in turn cut into five-mile hexes. This smallest map unit was then where most of the detailed setting information could be found: one hex could contain a city, while another had a lair of trolls. Some of the towns and cities were then detailed further, sometimes to the point of just about every single building of every single street. From here, it'll be the DM's (or "judge's", as he was known) job to dump his players somewhere in there and watch as they pick a direction at random and begin a path of destruction through it all.
The eighteen areas, in the original publishing order, were as follows:
City State of the Invincible Overlord
The centerpoint of the entire setting - be it geographically, politically, historically, or spiritually - the titular City State of the Invincible Overlord was built by dwarves on top of an ancient ruined city... which itself was on top of another, even older ruin. Nowadays it is mostly ruled by humans, with the humble Invincible Overlord himself in charge of everything, but the dwarves of the northern Thunderstone are still some of its most important allies. A bit further north there is the coastal city of Warwik, founded a long time ago by some nobility that had the bright idea to try and usurp the City State rule, and who were subsequently banished and are still plotting revenge.
Modron is another iconic city found here, on the shores of Roglaroon River and worshipping the river goddess of the same name. To the east there is the tiny village of Tegel, entirely of no consequences if it weren't for the setting of one of the most well-loved Judges Guild adventures, Tegel Manor. And in the southeastern corner you've got Ossary, a fine example of what happens when you give a bunch of chaotic murderous vikings their own city: its ruling chiefs are basically in the state of total war, fighting in the streets.
Witches' Court Marshes is exactly what it says on the tin. Once every year, some four thousand witches gather here to summon demons and plot wicked things.
The Barbarian Altanis
Here's pretty much the geographical central point of Wilderlands, which is probably why it makes sense there's also way more ruins here than just about anywhere else, as well as little bits of nowadays completely nonfunctional roads. This is where once stood the ancient Dragon Empire, ruled by some half-dragon folks called orichalcans, who unfortunately got their shit kicked in by their former slaves - the red-skinned altanians who now live here. The orichalcans got basically genocided, and there are now very few of them running around and nobody likes them.
There's a mountain range going through the middle, and it splits the area into several different weather zones: you've got hot, and slightly less hot. The nomadic altanian folks run around this place, but a few of them threw their lot in with the Invincible Overlord and settled down, and are known as the Traitor Barons. There are also elves here, in their ancient and venerable cities of Actun and others, as well as some human clans of Antil who really don't like women.
Valley of the Ancients
Land of the dragon graveyards, the ancient aliens, and the real weird gonzo shit. There are no great big city-states here because there aren't enough people mad enough to want to live in this hellhole - the only place to get even close, Tarsh, is a pretty piddly place when compared to Viridistan or something. The titular Valley of the Ancients is the site of an ancient dragon empire, now littered with draconic ruins, with the grand price - the palace of the dragon emperor - never having been found.
The vast Glow Worm Steppes are named after the gigantic glowing worms everyone knows are hunting here - but that're actually torch-wielding caveman hunting parties. Tricksy cavemen. The Dar Undine Desert is the hottest and driest land anywhere in the Wilderlands, even more so than the western great desert, but the edges get monsoon rains and windstorms every once in a while because of two gods in a constant struggle over supremacy of these lands. Like, how cool is that?
The pirate land, nominally governed by the city-state of Tarantis, and the Tarantine Merchant's Association therein. They do a pretty lousy job with that. Just about all the city states and provinces around are ruled by sultans also in Tarantis's pocket. The ruined capital of the ancient kingdom Kelnore lies basically in the opposite end of the bay where Tarantis is put on: the place basically blew up and burned down the last time it was sacked, and it's said demons and shit still inhabit it. Much of the land is a hot and dry desert, inhabited by bandits and nomads and bandit-nomads.
This is where you go if you want to set off to the far-away (as in, outside the maps entirely) kingdom of Karak.
The area directly north of City State, Valon is named after the house of avalonian ice wizards, the second capital of magic in the setting, and masters of the weather and the sea. Most of the map is filled up by pirate-infested sea, or mountains full of lost dwarven cities, the greatest of them probably the fabled Krazandol. Two rival wizards are trying to make two separate golem armies: one has almost completed an iron golem, the other cut some corners and is making regular flesh golems with some armor slapped on. Once, Sotur was the northernmost capital of the Orichalan Dragon Empire. Nowadays it is not only filled with demons and shit, but anyone even stepping inside risks catching a rotting plague.
Overall, aside from Valon itself, the region is generally considered a pretty nasty place to live.
Also known as the City State of the Immortal Emperor, along with many other equally-humble names, Viridistan is ruled by Green Emperor - and that ain't no empty title, because the guy and his wife are literally green, said to be the last of the ancient and powerful race of True Viridians. The rest of the kingdom's inhabitants tend towards lighter shades. They are trying to create a true new kingdom to the area, but it hasn't gone on for very long yet so the land is still as untamed as anywhere else. The depths of the Trident Gulf also hold the mermaid kingdom of Sae Laamer.
There are great many demons running around, likely because an earlier emperor made some unknown deal with Demogorgon in order to get him around to personally beat the shit out of some invading City-State chucklefucks. Not wanting to be outdone (although it really is hard to top that), the current emperor has a bunch of disguised succubi and mariliths in high positions. He's been going insane in the later years, which may or may not be related.
The much-travelled crossroads between the lands of north and south, this area has something extremely useful and surprisingly rare in this setting: actual fucking roads. You don't need to traverse the wilderness and get lost and shit, although there are still bandits and monsters preying on it so don't get too excited. It is also the site of the Holy cities, five desert cities on the entrance to bigass underground caves full of mushrooms and lakes, sacred to the faith of Mycr. Unfortunately, the current asshole Emperor of Viridistan really doesn't like Mycr, and has spent his 150-year rule persecuting them. Even now his forces have occupied several of the cities.
Despite being at the crossroads, there's no city-state here. Even the Holy Cities, the mecca for a whole religion, are pretty tiny and slummy. Blame Viridistan.
Sea of Five Winds
The vast empty of the Sea of Five Winds is the true buffer between the Demon Lands of the Ament Tundra to the South, and the Desert Lands of the Five Holy Cities to the North, Still packs of Demons and Demonspawn can be found roaming in the wilderness here, especially in the dank dark forests of the coastal lowlands, and in the canyons, caves, caverns, mines, and lost pyramidal tombs riddling the periphery of the enormous plateau located in the West. True to it's name, more than two-thirds of this area is open ocean or high seas notable for pirates, and with highly unpredictable weather.
Rich with game and wildlife the forested coastal lowlands along Western shore and with the many fresh and clear streams and rivers that cut inland toward the great escarpment, the coast of the Sea of Five Winds was once, long ago the center of all of the ancient Sea Kingdoms of the Wilderlands. Lost cities, treasures, and shipwrecks are scattered all along the coast, just waiting for brave adventurers who are willing to test their mettle.
Some notable towns here include Tlan, a seaport and trading village located about halfway down the coast, just keep an eye out for the thieves guild here! Elveskeep, located high up on the Escarpment overlooking Brinth Falls, a great waterfall that tumbles down more than 900 feet off the escarpment into the most beautiful and azure set of cascading pools. Elveskeep is of course, known for the Halflings that make up 99% of the entire population, and they are famous throughout the Wilderlands for their rich pungent and potent pipeweed. Where the Elves do live here, is high up along the walls of Vastem Canyon along the escarpment in a town named Serpeant-Tail, named after the canyon that the town was built in, of course. High up on the escarpment they have dug into the rocky walls of the canyon, and the entire town is suspended on the side of the cliff overlooking the coastal lowlands with miles of tunnels that lead deep into the plateau to many a mine, forgotten dungeons, and wet dark caverns.
If you're looking for all that Lost World stuff, this is where you'll want to go, right to the northwestern edge of the maps. They've got cavemen, dinosaurs, mammoths, saber-toothed tigers, amazons (sometimes riding those saber-toothed tigers), the biggest and most unexplored forest in the entire setting, mountains full of giants and hawkmen, and three moronic tribal leader brothers trying to assemble a mighty magical staff left behind by their much wiser father - obviously by killing off the other two brothers or stealing their staff piece.
Not much civilization, though: there's a few towns and fortresses that're lucky if they're past iron age, plus the ancient trading city of Damkina in the middle of a lake. It has been standing there unconquered for thousands of years because it doesn't even bother to defend itself: anyone's that got stuff to trade can come in and trade that shit.
Located in the Fantastic Wilderlands Beyonde. One of the most diverse of the Wilderlands campaign settings, with a wide mix of alignments and races, featuring scattered hamlets and towns of Men, Dwarves, Elves, Half-Elves, Ogres, and Goblins sandwiched between the Desert Lands and Five Holy Cities, with all the nomadic Dervish tribes located in the dry lands to the Northwest, and the pirate infested Sea of Five Winds to the South, Lenap is a backwater of petty lords and kingdoms just waiting for the one true conqueror to roll through.
Along the coast one will find find schools of Mermen and Mermaids, sunken cities, and in the vast wilderness, the burial mounds of long forgotten ancient steppe kings. Dragons roam freely here, and there are a host of islands off the coast, where marooned pirates, cannibals, primitive cave people, and dark magic await any that are brave enough to venture near.
One of the more interesting towns happens to be Valeyard, located off the coast fairly close to the island of Lenap. Both towns are pirate havens with large slave trading markets, with merchants, traders, and pirates all eager to unload their ill-gotten gains. Bring Rum!
The namesake of this area, the Ghinoran Successor States, split up from the ancient Kelnore when that shit started to fall apart in its decadence, and continued on living and occasionally even thriving for a long time after their parent kingdom went down, though they never did do as well as London or Holy Roman Empire in the real world did. Here, for instance, the major city-state of Chim got long since abandoned and replaced by a bunch of dwarves.
Jungles full of monsters and cannibals surround the few little towns and villages here, and the seas are little better: they're windy and stormy and full of strange and unpredictable currents, with hundreds of really weird islands scattered alongside, their magical shit ranging from colors, agelessness, emotion-powered winds, gravity revelsals, and lots and lots of undead, just to name a few. Along the eastern coast, colonies of Skandik sea raiders.
Isles of the Blest
Once the southern half of the great and mighty Dragon Empire, of the people of Oricha, nowadays just about nobody lives around here, save a few coastal villages. Plenty of sea traffic, though: all the ships to or from Viridistan pass through this way, circling across the entire damn peninsula so that people wouldn't need to brave the wilderlands on foot. There are even a bunch of portals scattered in the sea that can take a traveler right off to Tarantis. The Lake of the Gods was one of the few modern pockets left after the Uttermost War, and is said to contain a portal to the elemental plane of water.
The elves living here are surprisingly kickass: centered in the town of Ludgates, they've gone around and starting wars and killing and enslaving humans and shit.
Probably named after all that oil found in here, Ebony Coast is one of the nicest and the most peaceful lands in the entire setting - which isn't saying a whole lot, but still. There are plenty of farms and countryside manors and the roads are actually patrolled! It's a crossroad with a whole lot of folks from all across the land, even the eastern Karak maintaining some outposts, and the Blackwell Isle to the west is a popular visiting place for tourists, mercenaries, and adventurers.
Revelshire is the biggest and most prosperous city in the region, a tree-city built by elves to protect a treant. Then a bunch of human traders began to show up and inhabit the place and now humans and half-elves greatly outnumber the natives. Should've gassed the bastards when they first started to show up.
How can it be a tundra when it's this far south?
That's a really good question, and nobody fucking knows. Probably got something to do with the Demon Empires to the south. Either way, there it is: the titular tundra is a possibly magical plain of inhospitable cold, around which few people live that aren't altanian nomads or, strangely, halflings. To the west there are vast forests and gigantic mountain ranges, that keep the Demi-Giants well away.
Isles of the Dawn
Many old legends say that this was from where Apollo rose to the sky each morning, with the sun - hence the name. There are many shrines for him in this peaceful fisherman's paradise, along with whalers, traders from Karak (which is right to the east), fortresses maintained by the kingdom of Rallu, more than one sunken wizard's tower, sex-starved orcs trapped on an island due to a magical mishap, and nothing to eat but cabbage. The closest thing to a central authority is the port-market village of Dragonscar.
Located in the extreme Southeast portion of the Wilderlands the oceans and coasts of the Southern Reaches see frequent Skandik sea raider incursions. There are lots of Dwarves and Men, and some Orcs, and a scattering of Elves and Half-Elves. Among the usual scattering of shipwrecks and submerged palaces, there are abundant crumbling castles, wasted ruins, and abandoned strongholds that were once the homes of Men and Dwarves. While the mostly neutral and good population have defeated and driven off the Demon Hordes, occasionally small groups, and individual demons can be found hunting in the wilderness. Darkness and horror await adventurers that delve too deep into the ancient earth here so close to the Demon Wastes. Dire Wolves, Werewolves, and Bears can be commonly found above ground, roaming the wild lands.
A few of the notable villages here include Silverhall, a Dwarven mining town that features the mother lode of, ...you guessed it, Silver Mines! Dragonsaddle, another Dwarven village which overlooks Orc Bait Pass high up on the escarpment above the coastal lowlands and protecting Silverhall. Khallordain, a great subterranean Dwarven Hall, noted for it's beautiful cavern waterfalls, and rich iron deposits overlooking the Pass of the Sighing Stones and protecting the Northern approach to the Dwarven Highlands. Fairwatch, the town of Men on the plains, loaded with claims, prospectors, and deep gold mines. There is also Sacred Rock, an Elven community of shipwrights located near Silvership Castle along the Goldcham Estuary on the coast of the Sea of Five Winds. Even the Skandiks stay away from the fanatical elves here who will Fock them right up! if they dare to raid anywhere near here. Yes, the elven ships are expensive, however they are of the very best quality, and yes, you can get a giant swan ship, if'n you like.
Silver Skein Isles
A land of constant war, both the holy and the naval sort. The former is mainly carried out covertly, by assassinations and blackmail and such: the titular isles have gone a bit upset ever since a priest of Poseidon called Kanamant decided to purge his home island of all nonbelievers and, by means of a pretty vague and shaky claim, take over the entire Silver Skein as well. This all pretty quickly collapsed the normally relatively peaceful and friendly isles into one gigantic religious clusterfuck.
One of the islands has a gateway to the underworld. What fun.
Meanwhile, this region is the site where both of the two largest, most powerful, and most influential cities anywhere south of Tarantis - and mind you, that's a lot of south - are located, with nothing but a a bit of sea between them. Naturally, they're at constant war. Rallu is a land of sailors and pirates, its location secret to everybody until recently, when one of its rulers had the bright idea to reveal this secret to the world. Why he did that, no one would ever know - it could be he had a perfectly good reason for it and was about to lead the city into a new golden age, but then he got assassinated so none of that ever really worked out for him. To the south, there's the great magical city of Tula, a land of sorcerers and demons and monsters, all walking down the street perfectly nicely like it wasn't a big deal at all. To the northern lands, this city is a legend. Unfortunately, while its magic is unsurpassed, its naval force is just a bit weaker than that of a goddamn pirate city, which is why it's been slowly but steadily losing the war.
The Ghinor Highlands is about as close as one can get to being in the Demon Wastes, without actually being in the Demon Empire. Your average adventurer, of course, won't be able to tell the difference. Also, this is almost exactly opposite of the lands to the west. Just to the West, the Ament Tundra is where hell froze over. Here in the Ghinor Highlands you are just two steps from Hell, Really, there are steaming broken mountains,and active spewing volcanoes, and very hot, hot pits. Most of the Mountains have the word Doom in their name here. Even the lakes share that feature often having the word Doom somewhere in their name, or Shadow. You'll find the Legions Gate here, and Bloodseep, and along the northern borders, the hot and very steamy SCREAMING HYENA JUNGLE. There is a plentitude of fetid and dismal marshes, some springing right of of the great Southern escarpment, leeching oozes, and all manner of foul creatures, which in the darkness of the warm nights here, swarm the land.
The Dwarves like it here though, this is where the forges are hot, and there are lots of gems. They also enjoy hunting, and killing demons, just for sport. Of course, you'll find Gryphons and Hellhounds here, and all manner of Dragons, especially fiery Dragons. There are many villages and hamlets here where the men are bound into slavery, and servitude, and committing evil acts. There are also lots of elves and mages and clerics, committed to pushing back the Demons wherever they are found. This a a land of perpetual wars of darkness against light, and light against darkness. No rest for the wicked, or the good.
Some of the more notable towns in the region include Bramly, an Elven town noted for it's flaming wines, and Elmwood, a refuge in a quiet forest, a town of Halflings. In the town of Ten Elms, you'll find ten score elves, led by a Ranger, fighting evil. Dristhane and Mist are two Dwarven fortresses, on the lake shore just a days ride from the demon spawn of the OVERDOOM mountains. Guarding the plains approach to Mist and Dristhane is Nurenthane, the city of Marble and Men.
Seeing how the setting's pretty tiny it occasionally makes references to places out of the map. Three of these are of some real importance. The kingdom of Karak to the east is old, far more ancient than even the oldest true kingdom in Wilderlands (Kelnore), and basically fantasy India with bits of China and Mongols mixed in. It has powerful horse armies and navy, and sees wilderlands as a bunch of barbarians to be exiled into. The Great Glacier, north of Valon, is one big chunk of ice age, incredibly expansive and basically impossible to cross, though there are stories of other kingdoms beyond it. The ice wizards of Valon have hidden schools here. Finally, far to the south there's the Demon Empires, a mighty empire split in two and constantly raiding the northern lands - though far less in the last hundred years, whatever the reason. There are demons and fire elementals here, and the whole thing started as a breeding project by fucking aliens.
There were aliens.